A directory is like a path through a forest. A path is especially useful if your skills at navigating are not very good, or if the forest is large and dense. A directory can be reassuring; it is, after all, a path you can follow.
Directories are boring. Who wants to read lists of things, unless you are searching for something specific, and you must look at one. Looking at a directory is work: the reward must be apparent to want to go down the path. Directories are useless remnants of the past pre-digital, pre-Internet world. Google it, Bing it, but don’t waste time looking through page after page of stuff that isn’t necessary to look at.
Directories? Get a life!
Precisely. A directory of community-based services and activities is a path – however not just through any old forest, but to those people and resources that are around you, and are here for you. A forest that represents many different real-life real-world options.
A community directory of local resources is not the same path or process that one uses for a search of the lowest plane-fare or best-rated cellphone. A directory of local nonprofits is certainly not personal contact, but facilitating personal connections is one of its main purposes. It does this in two ways: it provides a path a person can follow, often to a locally based person, and it allows the viewer to see all of the resources that are available, all in one place. And this goes for nonprofit organizations as well: they all can see what is being offered by the other nonprofits – the community they are a part of. It’s a two-way street.
Using this directory listing often requires contact with a human being on a local level: you wouldn’t want it any other way. Algorithms are great tools in a volatile environment when change is the order every moment of every day, but relationships don’t change that fast, and where you live should not feel that impersonal.
Directory listings endure, Google search results evaporate. The resources local people provide don’t change as often as prices or phone features, therefore a directory can maintain its relevance over much longer stretches of time. Once established, community directories can easily be maintained using few resources.
Boring is as boring does
(Forest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”)
But that still leaves the “boring” issue, because even though a directory listing may have relevance in this instant direct-to-me gratification results-oriented world, if the local citizens don’t find this tool interesting, and consequently not many people use it, a directory is as good as not being there.
And so you, the library administrator or concerned citizen, will work on the website in order to create an attractive-looking directory in the hope that visitors to the site will become inspired enough to browse the listings in search of personal growth, needed assistance, or perhaps a little entertainment. And so you should, but if that’s where your efforts to engage people stop, you’ve missed the main point of the directory and the real impact that it can have.
This directory has other purposes besides directing people: it’s an enabler of relationships. The idea of a community network should not end with a listing – it should begin with a listing. Interactions with a directory do have a defined purpose – to connect people to resources – but other things should happen as a result of these interactions: libraries become familiar with the local people that make up local nonprofits, nonprofits become more familiar with their library, and new insights into people’s needs and wants emerge.
Over time, interactions can result in unique collaborations that mix resources with people in new ways.
For a library, developing relationships with those who are active in the community is as important as making resources easier to access.
This is the “secret” agenda of the community network directory – interaction – and it can roll out in many ways. Here are a few examples:
- Speaking with or emailing local nonprofits informing them of the directory listing.
- Discussing plans to assist nonprofits’ needs for volunteers beyond listing in the directory (like displays in the library).
- Engaging with nonprofits to enable collaborative efforts, like shared events at the library.
Different kinds of personal interactions can lead to other even more engaging interactions between the library, organizations, and local citizens. It is these interactive relationships that may not be apparent at first, but may produce creative and beneficial results as time goes on.
To be successful, it will be important to make the function of promoting communication for all, apparent to all. There should be nothing hidden about making people feel welcome, and about promoting the value of community resources and the dedicated efforts of those who offer them.
Call it marketing, call it being informative, but the additional purpose of offering a directory is to bring people together, giving everyone an “excuse” to participate – in community, and with nonprofit functions. As the architectural metaphor states, “form follows function,” in this case, let the directory show the way to improved interaction and communication between all who use it.
It does not matter who you are – an individual concerned about community development, global issues, or a library director addressing relevancy – involvement in local community is the same social responsibility.
The collective view of a community’s resources can also add to the attractiveness of a community – how a community is perceived by outsiders. A community offering a more complete view of, and a better connection to resources, can appear more attractive to visitors and those considering moving into the community.
The Library Community Network is a win-win-win situation, benefiting the library, nonprofits, and the people who are the community.
Creating a directory
Interested citizen, library director, whoever you are, let’s say you decide to start. What will life be like if you set out on this journey of creating a community directory of nonprofits? This is a good question to ask because in fact, it is a journey. And this is true regardless of the size of your community, or the size of your listing of nonprofits.
Creating a directory and following the path that it offers can bring you many things, some you may truly value, other results you may learn to avoid in the future. The beauty of this networking idea is this: you can start slow, take it as far as you want, and change it later if needed. It’s all possible, but before you begin, convince yourself you don’t need to know everything when you start; you will learn as you go. This is a journey of discovery, if for no other reason, because it is likely that no one else you know has done this before.
Planning for scale
You will need to determine the size of the area to be covered, e.g., village, town, city, county. There are at least two things to consider in doing this: the coverage area that will make sense to everyone who uses the directory, and your working relationship, if any, with other libraries.
Ultimately, the key to success will lie in how each listed nonprofit resource is categorized and indexed. This can include a map with the listing. But keep in mind that big city or small village, notebook or web-based listing, the goal is to foster personal connections: when people are engaged with the process of relating – one group to another, one person to a group, or person-to-person – there is an opportunity to create a sense of connection and belonging.
You will need to determine the kinds of information to be collected and the manner in which listings will be displayed. A listing should show more than just a link to an organization’s website. For instance, it could include contact information, information on whether the organization uses volunteers or not, or has regularly scheduled meetings, when these meetings occur, and so on.
You do not need the latest technology in order to promote community networking. It is also not necessary to be a librarian or a member of a nonprofit organization. I was representing neither a library nor a nonprofit when I created three directories. I didn’t even live near two of them. Anyone can start this community service.
How you go about implementing this will vary depending on your geographical location, the resources available to you, the culture of your community, and the kinds of nonprofit resources in your area. Here is the basic idea.
- First, get your feet wet: speak with a few nonprofit groups that service your area, introduce yourself and ask for feedback. Email everyone you speak with.
- Make a feasibility assessment and plan ahead. There are steps that will require time and effort before you can announce a start date.
- Make a list of all the nonprofit service and activity groups that serve your area. At the same time, create a contact list.
- Create major categories for your listings. Here are ones I have used:
Children and Family
Culture and Arts
Education and Health
Environment, & Nature
Job, Work & Business
Local Government Services
Social, Fun & Play
A successful directory will require an educational component that can include descriptive literature and signage in the library to help explain and encourage the process of learning what the community has to offer. How information is presented to the library employee can be as critical to the success of the directory service as the way in which information is presented to the patron.
A directory listing is an organization’s opportunity to make a personal statement to the community. Organizations may not realize the potential for outreach the listing has, so this step in creating a listing statement should be explained and emphasized.
Consider collecting the following information when listing an organization or group:
- The group’s preferred way of being contacted by those responding to a directory listing.
- Any designated contact person available to answer questions from the public.
- Any interest in meeting with other groups in order to explore collaborative projects.
- Does the group accept volunteers, and if so, is there a person contact for such information?
- Would the organization consider participating in an annual nonprofit festival day?
- Does the group present programs in the local public library? If not, is this something they might consider doing?